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Full text of "My Country And My People"

THE   ARTISTIC    LIFE                      2QI

rich men's delicacies, like ducks' feet, Ikhi, walnuts, hazelnuts,
etc. which were delineated with the greatest realism of detail.
The sumptuous feast inside was not seen, but only suggested
by these left-overs to be thrown into the refuse heap. The
conception is therefore everything, on which depends very
largely the poetic quality of the work. It is shy of straight
portrayal and it always tries to suggest. The constant care
of the Chinese artists is: Leave something for the imagination!

Had Chinese painting remained content, however, with the
emphasis on "conception/* which is more a matter of the head
than of the heart, it would have struck a blind alley, for art,
which ought to appeal primarily to our feelings and our senses,
would have degenerated into a mathematical puzzle or a
logical problem. No amount of technical skill or cleverness
of intellectual conception can give us great art, if it fails to
achieve an atmosphere and evoke in us a sympathetic state of
emotion. We see this in all great paintings, whether Chinese
or European. The mood is therefore everything. The drawing
of two birds alighting on a boat serves merely to suggest the
absence of any boatman near by, and that absence can mean
nothing to us unless, at the same time, it evokes in us a mood
of solitude and desolation. Why should not the boat drift
across by the force of the current if it wants to? The picture
becomes alive and full of meaning to us only when we feel that
the boat would not have drifted across like that if it had not
been left alone, and this leads to a reflection on the desolation
of the scene which could touch our emotions. Of what avail
is it to paint the sign of a wine-shop hidden in a bamboo grove
by the bridge unless we are led to imagine the people who
might be gathered in that wine-shop, where time hangs heavy
and life is at peace, and men can spend whole afternoons
gossiping about the fisherman's rheumatism and the queen's
girlhood romance? The evocation of the mood is therefore
everything, in painting as in poetry. This leads us to a con-
sideration of "atmosphere,5* otherwise called "rhythmic
vitality," which has been the highest ideal of Chinese painting
for the last fourteen hundred years, since Hsieh Ho first
enunciated it and other painters elaborated and discussed and
quarrelled over it